Voigtlander R3m
5 frames with...

5 Frames with a Bessa R3M, Nokton 40mm f/1.4 MC and Ilford PAN400 – By Dmitry Goloub

June 2, 2021

I returned to film in 2016 when my wife gifted me a Zorki-4 with Jupiter-8 and said that I was shooting better pictures with film cameras years before. This started a tremendous amount of GAS. I began exploring the world of old soviet rangefinders such as a Zorki, a FED-2 and Kiev-2. They were cheap, easy to use, and even to repair myself.

There was then was a short period with a Canon-7, which I sold after a year of use, a Leica IIIf with a collapsible Summicron and a SBOOI. But I wanted badly to get an M-mount rangefinder and the one I could eventually justify was an all-mechanical Bessa R3M with 1:1 finder — perfect for my fifty-obsession.

The Voigtlander R3M

The finder is huge and very bright. So are the framelines. The TTL metering is plain awesome. Also, the 1:1 finder allows me to shoot with both eyes wide open with framelines just hanging in the air. It feels like using a Voigtländer Kontur finder, but with a rangefinder patch in it, and also with the meter readout in the bottom.

It’s well-built camera. In many reviews they say that Cosina Voigtländer cameras are not as nice as Leicas in terms of build quality. I’d say that they are just a different kind of beast. There were only two disappointments with this Bessa. The rubber leatherette on the front of the camera — it was tearing off. To solve this problem, I’ve ordered uncut adhesive leather sheets from Aki-Asahi and cut them myself. It now looks and feels nicer, though the grip of Aki-Asahi leather is slightly less than in original leatherette.

The second disappointment is the rangefinder patch — at certain angles it becomes barely visible. This is solved with the habit of putting the eye straight in the center of viewfinder. However, there’s another solution that I’ve tried with my Zorki-4 — to cut a small piece of an adhesive part from a sticky-note and paint it black with a marker. This solution makes even the dimmest patches very well visible at any angles, but it’s prone to fall off if you suddenly touch it. In sum — it’s a great camera, but not perfect.

Later, I bought a Bessa trigger winder, that greatly improved the grip. But first, it makes shooting faster, sometimes it brings real advantage. Also, this winder has two strap lugs on the side (but on the opposite side from Leica M5) – it’s really great. With this setup it feels somehow more compact. Yes, the winder adds bulk, but anyway, Bessa isn’t a very compact camera if you compare it with a Barnack Leica or a Rollei 35.

Lens Choice

I’ve tried different focal lengths but mostly I’m still a 50mm shooter. That was until a week ago when I went off the track and bought a Voigtlander 40mm Nokton. Before I got this Nokton, I was already using Bessa R3M for about a year. Previously I was mostly shooting with Summicron or Jupiter-3 – the 50mm frame lines are visible so well in this Bessa.

But when it came to 40mm framelines, they are really close to the edges of viewfinder. Surprisingly, its angle of view is much larger than I expected. Even having 40mm framelines in view isn’t helping me much, and it seems that I’m composing most of the frames in the same way as I would do with a 50mm lens.

Sometimes you have to peek through and move your eye to see the edges, but maybe it’s just my habits. I’m not an eyeglass wearer, but still there’s a slight discomfort with the 40mm framelines. I just can’t use the both eyes open advantage of 1:1 finder with these frames — they are just too far from the centre. However, I find the field of view just perfect. It doesn’t feel like a slight tele, as with 50mm, and on the other hand, it doesn’t feel like a wide angle lens either.

The rendering is also so variable — it’s very sharp closed down and somewhat soft, but still sharp in the center when wide open, though it definitely doesn’t feel like vintage glass. The handling of the Nokton 40mm f/1.4 is also perfect — it’s really small, it’s metal, it has a great focusing tab, the aperture clicks are nice and have half-stops and finally it’s black and perfectly matches the Bessa body. It’s fair to say, I really like this lens!

The photos below were shot when my friends, Vad and Olga bought a new apartment in a new block — some of the buildings there are still in the final stages of construction!

I’m honoured that my wife and me were the first guests they’ve invited. There we had a small party among unpainted walls, without doors, furniture and decor.

I’m amazed with sharpness and contrast of this lens when needed.

A portrait of Vad. I’m still not very used to 40mm focal length, It’s yet a challenge for me to compose well.

The pictures were shot on Ilford PAN 400, developed in Rodinal 1:25 and scanned with Epson v500 with Vuescan, cropped in Adobe Camera Raw. At some stage, I’ll try it with color in different circumstances.

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    Tommaso
    June 2, 2021 at 12:37 pm

    Lovely shots. I have the R3a, automatic version, and I love it.
    As per rangefinder patch, it becomes barely visible, as yours but I am not sure if it happens at certain angles. I am prone to believe that it occurs when the light hits it directly.
    Great camera though. Even if mine has lost almost all the black paint and I have had to remove it completely…
    I also love your Aki Asahi leatherette.

  • Reply
    Giuseppe
    June 2, 2021 at 4:39 pm

    excellent review and excellent personal journey; I had the Voigt 3M, and in agreement with what is described, I would add that the ‘patch’ of the rangefinder does not follow the frames when correcting the parallax. Great scan, interesting to know the ‘sets’ used on the V550. Which is very similar to my V600;
    Joseph

  • Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    June 3, 2021 at 3:50 am

    Dear Dmitry,
    Thanks for posting your article. It’s a shame that Voigtlander discontinued their rangefinder cameras.
    My favorite shot of your series is actually the interior photo of the apartment. It ‘s almost identical to our daughter’s moving day into her new place in Boston, just before C-19 slammed into us. Meals on upturned boxes and wine in paper cups!
    I am using and old 40mm m-Rokkor on my M2 camera. It’s tiny, sharp and not that expensive for a M mount lens. There are no viewfinder frames for 40mm in a Leica M, so I rely on the 50mm frame for composition, knowing that I’ll get a bit more. I could file down the frameline indexing tab, but the though of taking a file to the lens just gives me a bad feeling.
    What is Ilford PAN 400? It’s not sold in the US (as far as I know.) I’m familiar with all the Ilford/Kentmere films sold here, but not the PAN 400. I’ve
    also seen references to a PAN 100.
    Wishing you continued good success with your Bessa & 40mm lens.

    Regards,
    Dan

    • Reply
      Dmitry Goloub
      June 10, 2021 at 12:17 pm

      Thanks, Daniel! Ilford PAN 400 is a film sold in third world countries (no idea why do they count Russia, as a part of third-world). It’s similar to Kentmere 400. Some say, that it’s the same film as old HP5, without plus. It’s a nice and cheap film, I”ve bought a big bulk of it and I do wind rolls myself.

      • Reply
        Dan Castelli
        June 12, 2021 at 3:58 am

        Thanks! I’ll badger Ilford USA to see why they don’t bring it here.

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